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Editorial: Huntington residents’ input vital to tackling blighted structures

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

One of the more pervasive challenges facing Huntington is the sheer volume of structures that are abandoned and dilapidated.

Those structures, whether residential or commercial properties, present a host of negative factors. They spread neighborhood blight, attack community pride, lower property values, pose dangers to people around them including emergency personnel who may be called upon to respond to incidents, are often the targets of arson and become magnets for crime.

Those are broad, sweeping assumptions about the impact vacant and abandoned buildings have. However, Huntington officials hope to get a more specific understanding of the costs associated with blighted properties, and they are calling on the public to help.

Meetings have been scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in three neighborhoods that have felt the consequences of these structures – Fairfield, Highlawn and West Huntington. The sessions will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, at New Baptist Church, 610 28th St., in Highlawn; from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, at the Marie Redd Center, 1750 9th Ave., in Fairfield; and from noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12, at Central United Methodist Church, 1043 Jefferson Ave., in West Huntington.

The input residents provide will give city officials, as well as national experts focused on this issue and assisting Huntington, more specifics about the costs associated with dilapidated and abandoned dwellings and other buildings to residents and the local government.

The information can be vital as the city hopes to move forward in developing plans and strategies to tackle the issue.

The sessions are part of a technical assistance scholarship the city received after a competitive application process from the Center for Community Progress. Huntington was one of three communities nationwide to receive a scholarship this year. Through the program, the nonprofit Center for Community Progress helps communities break new ground in their efforts to address property vacancy, abandonment and deterioration and shares best practices it has discovered from around the country.

For several years now, Huntington has worked to develop strategies aimed at reducing the number of blighted structures, through the Unsafe Buildings Commission and the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority’s land bank program. Those programs combined have demolished dozens of structures, with the goal of returning them to productive use and stemming the spread of blight.

Much the same work is occurring across the Ohio River in Lawrence County, where a land bank program similar to Huntington’s last week embarked on tearing down the first unsafe structures on its list. The goal of Lawrence County’s program is to have a few dozen dilapidated structures torn down by this summer and ultimately raze 200 or more. That initiative received a big boost – more than $4 million – from Ohio state government to get underway.

Huntington’s efforts to tackle abandoned structures do not have nearly that much financial support. The initiative with the Center for Community Progress may yield some new strategies that haven’t been tried here yet.

But the first step is determining the ways that people are affected by blighted structures to help set a foundation for a plan. That’s why it’s important for the residents in the three targeted neighborhoods to take part in this week’s meetings. Their sense of the costs and and opinions about what might be done could help set the stage for more progress against this malady of Huntington and many other cities.

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